Evidence-based treatment recommendations for OTC management of chronic constipation

Satish S.C. Rao, Darren M. Brenner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chronic constipation is a common gastrointestinal condition, and most individuals self-treat with multiple over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives prior to consulting a health care provider. This brief report is a synopsis of an updated systematic review the authors conducted of published data on the efficacy and safety of OTC treatments to provide evidence-based recommendations. After applying the selection criteria, 41 randomized controlled clinical trials of ≥ 4-week duration were identified and analyzed. Standardized definitions of constipation were applied across these studies; however, definitions for stool frequency and consistency varied. Overall, the short- and long-term efficacy of polyethylene glycol-based preparations and senna were supported by good (grade A) evidence suggesting their use as first-line laxatives. Modest evidence (grade B) supported the use of other agents including the stimulants bisacodyl and sodium picosulfate, fiber, fruit-based laxatives, and magnesium oxide. Additional evidence from rigorously designed studies is needed to support the use of other options for chronic constipation. The OTC products studied were generally well tolerated with common adverse effects being abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1041-1044
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 8 2022


  • Constipation
  • osmotic laxatives
  • over the counter
  • stimulant laxatives
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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